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In Search of the Okapi - A Story of Adventure in Central Africa
by Ernest Glanville
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"And I am very thirsty," said Compton.

"Their home is in the trees," continued Muata.

Venning nodded. "Leo arboriensis."

"Venningii," added Compton, as he took his lips from a water-bottle. "And now we'll have breakfast, if you don't mind."



CHAPTER XIV

THE OVERHEAD PATH

"We were stopped by ants," said Mr. Hume, in explanation.

"By ants!"

"No less. I missed you not long after we had started, and passed the word on to the others to turn back. And in the mean time an army of marching ants had cut the line of communications.

"Couldn't you sweep them aside, or jump over?"

"I did not venture to try, my boy. I did try climbing across from tree to tree, but their skirmishers were everywhere. As for jumping across, I took the chiefs word for it, that the feat was impossible. Once that kind of ant gets a grip, he does not let go, except with the morsel he has fastened on to. And there were millions!"

"I can hardly imagine you were stopped by ants," said Compton.

"The ground before us was alive as far as we could see, and red. It was like standing on the bank of a river, and the myriads went on through the day until dusk. I have seen swarms of locusts on the march in the voetganger stage, and a large swarm will cover a length of three miles, but never would I have believed so many living things could gather together."

Compton laughed again. "Held up by an army of ants! I can't get the idea."

Mr. Hume rolled back his sleeves, and there were red marks from wrist to shoulder.

"And that was done only by the scouts on the tree I attempted to climb. Muata says they have put whole villages to flight."

"Eweh," said the chief, "and even the elephant will turn from their path, else would they get into his ears, his trunk, and to the soft parts between his legs, biting each a little piece of skin. They fear nothing. Death to them is nothing. I have seen them stop a fire by the numbers of dead they heaped upon it in their march."

"So we had to wait, and it was not a pleasant time for me. But, thank goodness, you are safe—aye, and safe, thanks to your own pluck."

"Dick did it all," said Venning. "I seemed to get dizzy all at once."

"I am not surprised," said Mr. Hume, looking grave; "and I think we ought to go back. The air is too heavy."

"After a good sleep I shall feel better," said Venning.

"It would be too bad to turn back."

"It would be too bad if you fell ill."

"What do you say, Muata?"

Muata lifted his hand. "Those who would cross the forest must be of the forest. Who are the people of the forest? Not those who live in the plains. Even the river-people are afraid to go far in. What are the creatures of the forest? They are those born among the trees, and those who dwell in the open seldom enter into the darkness and the quiet of the wood."

"Yet," said Compton, "there are people of the forest, and animals also, and they live." "For them are the trees."

"But when they go about they must travel under the trees."

"That is your word," said the chief. "But it must be so."

"Muata is right," said Mr. Hume. "We have only entered the fringe, and already we are different people. The lungs cry for pure air."

"Yet there is a way," said Muata; and his eyes fell upon the tawny hide of the tree-lion. "How, chief?"

"On top of the trees, not under!" cried Venning, who had seen that the chief was working up to some point.

Muata spread out his fingers gravely. "Even so," he said. "There are paths on the tree-tops known to the little people, and made by them. Maybe they will let us travel also by them."

The others stared at the chief in amazement; and even Venning, in spite of his intelligent anticipation, was too surprised to speak.

"There you can look upon the sky; there the wind blows fresh."

They looked up at the roof of branches, and then around into the sombre aisles.

"And where are the little people?" Muata smiled. "Who knows? They come like shadows, and like shadows they go. Even now they may be near watching to see if we are friends or enemies."

"You would not tell us an idle tale, chief. Let us hear what is in your mind."

"Stay here, my friends, while I seek the little men. Maybe, if I find them, they will put us on our way; but if I fail, then my word is that you go back to the river, lest the sickness of the woods come upon you."

"We will wait; but I have seen no signs of the little men. They may be far and difficult to find."

"They have watched us all the way," said Muata, calmly; "and it was in my heart that they had fallen upon the young chiefs in the night."

"Glad we didn't know," said Compton, thoughtfully.

Muata went off on his self-appointed task, and the white men felt, as they saw him disappear, how impossible it was for them to cope with the mystery of the forest. They were even more helpless than castaways at sea without a compass; for at sea in the day there is the clear sweep to the horizon miles away, while in the forest all they could be certain of was a little circle with a radius of less than fifty yards. Beyond that was the unknown, because unseen—a vague blur of trees that might be sheltering wild animals or savage men. And what made their helplessness the more felt, was the knowledge that Muata knew so much, and that others—the mysterious pigmies—knew still more. If there had been open glades, stretches of greensward, rippling brooks, or even a hard clean carpet such as is found under a pine forest, they would have been undismayed; but this gloomy, shrouded fastness, without glimpse of sunbeams, was becoming a nightmare.

Yet it would never do to become a prey to depression, for there is no danger so fatal to the explorer as low spirits, the forerunner of sickness.

By common consent they fought against a strong fit of the blues. Mr. Hume and Compton held a consultation over Venning, examined him, doctored him, and put him through the ordeal of a Turkish bath roughly made with the aid of the oil-sheets. After that he was rolled up in blankets and left to slumber. Compton was next treated in the same way, and then Mr. Hume busied himself with his note- book.

When the boys woke up in the afternoon, much refreshed, Muata had returned.

"Fall in, lads."

"Has he found them?" and the boys were up and glancing round for the pigmies.

"Yes; we are to go 'upstairs' at once."

"But where are they?"

"The little people have gone on," said Muata. "They will spy out on the man-eaters."

"You really did find them?"

"Ow aye; they know Muata. They and I have been on the path before, else they would have fallen on the young chiefs in the night—for they saw. The killing of the fierce ones much rejoiced them. It opened their lips about the upper way."

"We are ready," said Compton, "for the upper way—for the trapeze and the aerial flight."

Muata struck off into the woods, and the rest crowded on him, glancing up at every tree for signs of the new track.

"Behold the road," said the chief, showing his white teeth in a rare smile, as he caught in his hand a trailing vine that swung clear from the neighbouring growth, and reached up forty feet or so to a thick branch.

"Are we to swarm up that?"

Muata nodded.

"And what will you do with the jackal?"

The chief turned a look of disgust at his bloated ally. "He will follow underneath;" and reaching up, tie went hand over hand, using his toes very much like fingers to help. Then he lowered a rope which he had coiled round his waist; and Mr. Hume, putting the loop under his arm, trusted his weight to the swaying vine. Venning and Compton followed, with the help of the rope, but the river-man declined. He preferred to travel on the firm ground with the jackal. From the branch the four passed to the fork of the tree and held on.

"I don't see any path," said Venning.

"Nothing in the shape of a foot-bridge that I can see; and it would not be quite safe to fall, would it?" replied Compton, as he glanced down.

Muata went on up into the topmost branches, and, when they followed him, they found a small platform of saplings lashed to the branches by vines, and from this vantage they looked out over a wonderful sea of leaves, reaching unbroken as far as eye could reach, with billows and hollows, patches of light and shade, and splashes of colour where red flowers gleamed. And it was good to see the domed sky, the white clouds racing low, with shadows moving swiftly over that sea of leaves; to see the flight of birds, and to hear the voices of living things.

The tree on which they stood was very tall, but there were others as tall, standing up like rocks out of the sea; and when they grew accustomed to the strange surroundings, they saw something peculiar in the shape of these tree islands. They were cleft through the centre, leaving a narrow passage, quite distinct to any one standing in line—as they were, for instance—with the domed head of a tall tree about three hundred yards away.

"That is our way," said Muata.

"But where is the foothold?"

Muata pointed to notches cut in a lateral branch, and walked to the end of it, steadying himself by holding to a guiding branch above; then passed over the slight intervening distance between the last notch and the next tree by swinging on a vine tendril, otherwise a "monkey-rope."

The others followed very gingerly, for the feat was like walking on a yard-arm, but each in turn reached the farther tree. After a little, as they went on, now walking, now swinging, they all were able to pick up the singular track by the notches, by the lay of the lateral branches, and by the absence of projecting twigs along the course. These had all been cut back, leaving a sort of tunnel, not easily discernible, however, because of its undulating character to accommodate itself to the varying height of the trees. They very soon found two obstacles in the way of easy progress, due to the small size of the engineers who had designed this extraordinary road. In the first place, the notches on the branches were too small; and in the next, the tunnel was too low for their height, so that they had to stoop; while it was also evident that the overland swing-bridges between the trees were too frail for their weight. They quickly, therefore, resorted to their Ghoorka knives and to the rope. Venning, being the lightest, crossed over first by the monkey vine-bridge, when he made the rope fast to his end. It was then secured at the other, enabling the heavy weights, Mr. Hume and the chief, to pass next, Compton bringing up the rear with the rope round his waist, to guard against a fall in case of accident. Naturally, their progress was at first very slow, though not so much slower than it would have been had they to force a way through the undergrowth below; and the river-man found his work cut out to keep pace underneath when at times he encountered dense thickets.

By the time they had covered the three hundred yards and reached the next platform, they were finding their "tree-legs."

They stopped a while to take their bearings, looking out on the same unbroken expanse of tree-tops, tossed up into all manner of inequalities, and then recommenced their acrobatic, performance, making for the next "station." With a few slips, a few scratches, and bruised shins, they kept on until they had covered about a mile, when the growing dusk warned them to form camp.

"We'd better go down below," said Mr. Hume.

"Not I," said Venning. "I had enough of down below last night; I'm going to sleep on deck, sir."

"Ditto," said Compton, emphatically; "and I don't see why we all should not camp out aloft. We could easily widen the platform, rig up the waterproof sheets as a tent, and haul up some mould to make a fireplace."

The idea was acted upon vigorously, the platform widened and strengthened, the roof pitched, the mould hauled up in a bag made out of one of the leopard skins, and the fire lit upon a foundation so made. They roosted high and secure, but they could not claim in the morning that they had passed a pleasant night, for the bed was hard, the space cramped, and each one dreamt he was falling off a tremendously high perch. Moreover, sound travelled more freely up above, and, in place of the brooding silence of the under-world, there were many strange noises up aloft, the most menacing being an occasional booming roar, which they recognized as the cry of the gorilla.

The morning was wet as usual, and heavy clouds trailed over the forest like a leaden mist on the sea. They crouched under the tent, listening to the drip, drip, drip, and filling their water-bottles from the tricklings. About ten the clouds lifted, and then the sun drove his arrows through until, almost in a twinkling, the great wet blanket rolled itself up and vanished swiftly into the horizon, leaving behind the sparkling of myriad raindrops on the leaves. Then for an hour the forest steamed, as the sun licked the drops off the roof and chased the moisture along the boughs. When the way was dried for them, they went on, going barefooted this time, for the better grip to be obtained.

Other creatures had waited for the drying of the leaves beside themselves, and whenever they passed the white-grey branches of a wild fig tree, they were treated to a scolding from green parrots on the feed, and heard frequently the clapping report of the wood- pigeons as they brought their wings together, and the harsh cry of the toucans. Oh yes, there was life and there was death.

Venning, going on ahead, saw below him in the fork of a tree the face of a monkey, with the eyes closed as if in sleep. He stopped to look, stooping his head, and his eyes caught a slight movement. Then he saw that the sleeping monkey was cradled in the coils of a python resting in the forks of the tree, its head raised a little, and its tail gripping a branch. The head of the monkey rested peacefully on one of the black and yellow coils, for death had come upon it swiftly.

"What do you look at?" asked Muata, bending forward.

"Shall I shoot?

"So," muttered the chief. "It is the silent hunter. Let him be; let him be, and pass on. No other looks at man as he looks. It is his kill; pass on."

They passed on, leaving the "silent hunter" with the monkey, that looked as if he slept, and silent and motionless he remained as each one paused to glance down, his dull, unwinking yellow eyes showing like coloured glass in the lifted head.

"Look well," said Muata, warningly; "where there is one, there will be another near. The silent ones hunt in couples."

"Would they attack men?"

"Ask the 'little' people."

"But they are no bigger than monkeys."

"There is the monkey bigger than man, and he, too, must give way to the silent hunter."

"What! Is the gorilla afraid of the python?"

"Between the ape and the serpent there is always war. See where you place your foot then, for you travel the monkey-path, and we go hand and foot like monkeys. Look well where you place your hand, for a straight branch may be the body of the silent hunter."

Venning went on with renewed caution, studying the branches above and below, for, lover as he was of all manner of live things, he had the common repugnance to the serpent-kind. But the trees were innocent of guile, and presently some other object claimed his absorbed attention, no less than an old man gorilla, who thrust his black head above a tree-top a little way off, and violently shook the branches. At the noise every one stopped and peered out.

"Look!" he shouted.

"By Jove, a gorilla!" cried Compton, from the rear.

The great head was thrust forward, with its low black forehead and blacker muzzle; then they saw the whites of the eyelids as the fierce creature swiftly raised and lowered its brows; then the gleam of the great tusks as the mouth opened to emit a tremendous roar. The branches cracked under its grip as it shook them again before disappearing. Mr. Hume unslung his rifle and planted himself firmly, for, from the sound, it seemed as if the great ape were coming straight for them. But the noise of its progress ceased, and, after a long wait, the march was resumed. They kept a very keen outlook, and at times stopped to listen, but apparently the gorilla had vanished. Yet many were the startled looks whenever the least sound broke on their ears, for the face of the great ape, suddenly thrust into view, was a terrifying object.

"Halloa!" said Venning, pulling up, "the path seems to end here. See, the branch is broken off; and there is no swing-bridge. Yet the track did go straight on, for you can see the old marks across there."

"Wow!" said Muata, as his dark eyes swiftly took in the details.

"If I climbed up that branch, I think I could get into the other tree, and you could then use the rope."

"What is it now?" asked Mr. Hume.

"They have cut the track," said the chief; "and it is as I thought, they have gone down from this tree to the ground, maybe to climb up further on."

"Why?"

"Maybe a man has fallen to the ground here—who can say; or the stinging ants have made a home. That tree beyond is taboo to the little people, and we also will go down here."

"What's the good?" said Venning, beginning to climb up.

"No, no," said Mr. Hume. "We must leave this to the chief;" and he turned to descend.

Venning, however, was standing well placed for a swing, and he let himself go, reaching out with his left hand for another hold, and gaining the other side easily. Compton, of course, followed, and the two stood examining the tree for sign of the path. The track certainly had gone through that tree, but there were no signs of recent passage, and moss had grown over the branches. They called down that they were going on, and, passing across several trees, found themselves once more cut off from the next tree, on which the well-beaten track once again ran on.

"Here's the place," they shouted, to guide the others; then looked about to see how they were to cross.

"We'll have to shin down," said Compton, "for there's no crossing here."

Venning sat down astride a branch with his back to the trunk.

"May as well rest awhile till they come up."

"That's a queer-looking branch underneath," said Compton, following suit, and dropping a piece of bark on a bough that had attracted his attention. "It's covered all over with little squares of velvet moss. See!"

"Suppose we lower our guns by the rope, then we can swarm down easily," replied Venning, who had seen too many branches to be interested; and passing the rope round the two rifles, he lowered them to the ground, letting the rope follow.

"I believe it's moving, or else I've got fever or something."

"What's moving?"

"That;" and Compton pointed down.

"By Jenkins!" muttered Venning; and the two knitted their brows as they peered down into the shadows, for the branch certainly was moving, and moving away as if it meant to part company with the trunk. Their glances ran along the branch outwards, and then their eyes suddenly dilated, and their bodies stiffened.

So they stood like images, their hands clasping a branch, their heads thrust forward, and their eyes staring. On the same level with their heads and about twelve feet off was the head of that moving "branch," square-nosed, wedge-shaped, with the line of the jaws running right round to the broad part under the eyes, and a black- forked tongue flickering through an opening beneath the nostrils, It was the fixed stare of the lidless eyes, and the rigid position of the grim head poised in mid air on a neck that began like the muscular wrist of an athlete, thickening to where it was anchored on a branch three feet away to the size of an athlete's leg. And while the head, with the three feet of neck remained rigid, the body was gliding out and up, finding an anchorage in the forks of the tree on a level with the head, in readiness for the attack.

With an effort they drew their eyes away from that cold glance that held them almost paralyzed and glanced down. Beyond, the light branches shook as the huge coils passed over them. Such coils! As they moved into the sunlight they saw the glitter of the scales and the ridges of the muscles, and the movement was like the movement of several serpents instead of one.

Venning looked again at the motionless head. "When it has gathered its length behind and above its head," he said slowly, "it will strike."

"And you dropped the guns!"

"No one can stare a snake out—no one," said Venning; and his eyes were fixed.

"How far can it strike?"

"It has no lids to its eyes. It just looks and looks. Compton!"

Compton took Venning by the arm and shook him. "Come on," he cried. "What are we standing here for?"

But as he spoke his eyes went up involuntarily, and his pupils expanded.

"It's coming closer," he whispered.

"And its eyes are brighter." Venning shut his eyes, and gripped his companion.

They swayed, and just managed to save themselves from a headlong fall by grasping a branch. The shock restored them, and the next minute they had swung themselves up on to the branch, and from that to the next. It was done in an instant, but when they cast a breathless look down, they saw the unwinking eyes looking up at them from the very spot they had just left. The snake had a double coil round the branch that had supported them, while the huge body bridged the distance to the branches from which the blow had been delivered just a moment too late. As they looked, the hinder part of the body fell with a thud against the tree-trunk, and began to ripple up.

"Back," said Compton, "to the next tree."

They darted to the vine-bridge, swung over, then stopped to see if the snake would follow.

"The monkey-rope would never bear its weight," said Venning.

"Can you hear it? By Jove, I feel all of a jump. I felt as if I had to stand there and watch it come right up."

"Ugh!" said Compton. "It was awful. Get ready to run. I see it—over there—just opposite; it's going up—no, down. I say, it will chase us from underneath. Come on!"

Venning went a little lower, the better to see the ground.

"Hi! underneath, Mr. Hume! Muata! Hi! Coo-ee!"

"Halloa! What is it?"

"A snake! He's going down the next tree to this. Look out!"

"All right; but you will find it safer down here."

They were of that same opinion, and were down with a run, that took some of the bark off their shins, as well as off the trees.

"And where are your guns?"

"Dropped them," said Compton.

"I see. Dropped them first, and discovered your danger after."

"Rub it in, sir. We ought to have followed you; and we have had a fine fright. It's big enough to scare any one."

All the time, they had their eyes turned up on the watch for the slightest movement, but the tree was as quiet as if it had not harboured anything more dangerous than a caterpillar.

"Where's Muata and the other boy, sir?"

"Gone after a red bush-pig. I think I hear them breaking back."

They heard the hunting cry of the jackal, then a sound of crashing, and an animal, brick-red—a strange hue for the sombre shadows of the forest—darted into view, and seeing them, halted with snout lowered, and the bristling neck curving up grandly to the high shoulders. A moment it stood there facing them, defiant, its little eyes gleaming, its tusks showing white, and the foam dripping from its jaws. A moment, and then it sank to the ground, and was hidden under a writhing mound of coils. Swift as an arrow the python had swooped at the prey, fastened on the neck with its jaws, and then overwhelmed it by the avalanche of its enormous length. There followed a sickening crunch of bones, and next a wild cry from the jackal, repeated by Muata and the river-man.

Mr. Hume advanced with his Express ready, but Muata, running round, begged him not to fire.

"It is the father of the wood-spirits. He took the red pig instead of one of us."

"Not for the want of trying," said Venning. "He nearly had us both, Muata."

"But he took the pig," said Muata. "It is his hunt, and it means well for us that he took the pig."

"It certainly does; but how are we to get our guns, if we don't shoot him?"

Muata placed his weapon on the ground and advanced. The python had completed its work so far. Two vast coils were round the crushed body of the boar; the head rested on the upmost coil, with the eyes fixed on the intruders, and the rest of the body reached away into the shadows.

Muata advanced with the palms of his hands open, and his eyes downcast, as if he were in the presence of some great chief. Yet he showed no fear, never faltered, but walked up to the guns, picked them up within a foot of the spot where the length of the serpent had formed a loop, and returned. The lidless eyes watched, but not a coil moved.

"It is well," said Muata, gravely, as he returned the rifles. "He means well by us."

"You would not have said that if you had been up the tree with us, and with him," grumbled Compton.

"The tree is taboo. I said it."

"Do you mean that he lives here? I should think he would starve."

"That would be your word, young great one. But, see, look at my father there. He is big, very big, very heavy, very old. He does not care to move far. Yet he is wise. So he has chosen his hunt; and he has chosen well."

"I cannot see it. The little people give him a wide berth, and a pig might come along once a year."

"Such is your wisdom, little great one. But, see, in the trees above there is a roadway, and on the ground below there are other paths for the things of the forest who neither fly nor climb. These trees lie in the way of such a road. On the ground, if you had looked you would have seen the spoor of the red pig and other things of the forest."

"By Jove, yes!" and the boys stared at the unfamiliar spoor of animals. "But why do they use this particular part of the forest?"

"That we shall see, for our way lies now along this ground-path. The little people have done their tracking. The man-eaters are near."



CHAPTER XV

FIGHT WITH A GORILLA

"The man-eaters," said Venning, blankly. "I had forgotten about them."

"And there is another thing you have forgotten," said Mr. Hume, sternly, "you and Compton. You have forgotten to obey orders. My orders were to descend from the tree. You both kept on, and by so doing ran a very great risk. Understand now, that you will do exactly what I wish."

Compton looked rebellious, and opened his lips.

"Not a word!" said the hunter, in a roar, with a hard look in his eyes, that gave a fierce expression to his face.

The two boys stared at him dumfounded.

"You understand?" he said.

"I do, sir," replied Compton, gravely; for, high-spirited as he was, he was in the wrong, and had the courage to admit it.

That night they saw the fires of the man-eaters, who had encamped on a knoll comparatively free from trees and entirely bare of underwood. Beyond the knoll was the gleam of water, and at the same time they heard the familiar trumpeting of the mosquito hosts, whose attentions they had been free from ever since they left the river. They anointed their faces and hands with an ointment that contained eucalyptus oil, while Muata and the river-man went off to scout. Then they stood in the shadow of a great tree and watched the weird scene in the thick of the forest. There were several fires, and about each squatted a ring of wild black men. Their skins glistened like ebony from the fat they had liberally rubbed in, and their teeth and eyes gleamed in the reflection of the fires. Their hair, fizzled out in mops, had the appearance of fantastic Scotch bonnets; but apparently all their vanity had been lavished on their heads, for of dress they wore nothing but anklets and a strip of hide round the waist. They talked unceasingly, cracking their fingers and making play with their hands, while all the time one or another of the different groups was on his feet, stamping the ground, swinging a club, and shouting at the top of his voice.

"Ah men," said Mr. Hume. "Not a woman or a boy among them."

"What have they done with their prisoners, if these are the same we are after?"

What, indeed! Their eyes searched the shadows at the foot of the knoll for trace of the unfortunate people who had been captured, but they could neither see nor hear anything.

"Ugh, the brutes!" muttered Venning, with a shudder, as he brought his rifle to the "ready."

Mr. Hume pressed the barrel down. "We'll have no night attack," he whispered. "At the first note of danger they'd scatter like shadows, when they would have the eyes and the ears of us. Well hear what Muata has to say, and then wait for the morning."

"There are thirty-six of them," muttered Compton. A bull crocodile roared from the water near at hand, and one of the black men imitated the cry, drawing a yell of wild laughter from his comrades. It was the wildest of scenes. The little circle of red fire threw into light against an impenetrable wall of black the trunks of a few trees, the trailing vines, and the forms of the savage men. That was the one bit of the world visible, a space on which appeared some of the lowest forms of the human race; but, though they could see not an inch beyond the furthest reflection of the fires, they knew how well the setting fitted the picture. It seemed only natural that in that gloomy wilderness of wood these savage types should prevail, for if man had to live there, he could only hold his own by a cunning and ferocity greater than the beasts possessed. Every item of the scene stamped itself on the minds of the boys as they stood for a long time watching the antics of the savages.

It was a relief when Muata made his presence known by a cricket-like chirrup.

"Are these the men we are after, chief?" asked Mr. Hume, when the two scouts silently crept up. "They are the same, but the trail is different." "Then they are already on another hunt, and have left the women and children they captured elsewhere? Is that so?"

"As you have seen, they are warriors only. Such of the women and children who yet live are hidden. These await the coming of the other wolves."

"Oh oh! Then there is to be a great war-party?" "A great killing! I went near, round by the riverside, where also there is a fire as a signal. I heard their talk. Others will join them in the night or the morning, and together they will go in the war-canoes."

"And who are they that are expected?"

"I said we had not done with the thief-of-the-wood and the river, the man-robber, the slayer of babes."

"Hassan! Do you mean that the Arabs are coming?"

"Even so, O great one. They are well matched, the man-eaters and the man-stealers."

"And whom do they go against?"

"What should bring Hassan here but one thing, and that the fear of Muata?"

"Humph!" muttered Mr. Hume.

"They go against my people, so that when Muata returns there will not be one left—man, woman, child, or dog—to greet him, not one hut left to shelter him, not a single manioc-root for him to eat. Hassan will let in the waters upon the Garden of Rest."

"Eh?"

"That is his word. He has sworn it in his beard, and these jackals howl it out. They talk of new fish that are to come to their nets."

"New fish?"

"Oh aye. When the water is let in, they will stand on the sloping banks of the Garden of Rest and net the drowned."

"These are strange words, Muata. What are you talking about?"

"I talk of the plan that is made by Hassan to destroy utterly my people in the Garden of Rest," said the chief, gloomily—"the secret hiding whence I went forth against the man-stealers. Hassan comes hither in the morning, and with these eaters of men, these jackals of the wood, he will go on his way."

"I see," said Mr. Hume, slowly. "They are not on our trail."

"Let us go for them now," said Compton, who had been eagerly listening.

Muata paid no heed to the words.

"There must be a new plan, chief," said Mr. Hume.

"And what says the great one?"

"There is only one good plan, Muata, but you have yourself opposed it."

"What is the plan, my father?"

"We should get to the Garden of Rest in advance of the enemy, and be ready to beat them off. That would be the best way, but you have said you would not lead us to your secret hiding."

"It is the plan," said Muata.

"What!" cried Compton, "would you run away from these swabs without firing a shot? What do you say, Venning?"

"I am willing to listen to all sides," said Venning, judiciously.

"We must not fire a shot,"' said the hunter, with decision; "we must withdraw without Hassan knowing of our presence. If they learnt we were hereabouts, they would be on their guard, and, having the 'legs' of us by reason of their canoes, and the advantage by reason of their numbers, they would push on, and arrive at the hiding-place before us. If they do not suspect our presence, they will take matters easy, and give us time."

"But what of Muata's mother?"

"That is the chief's matter," said Muata.

"And what of the Okapi?" asked Venning. "This is my word. You will go back in the morning," said the chief, "marching quickly; and when you have found the shining canoe, you will move fast up the river to the place where the first little river from the forest joins it on the right bank. There you will find me."

"And if we don't find you?"

"Haw! What Muata says, that he will do."

"And how are we to find our way back through the woods?"

Muata drummed his fingers against the stretched skin of his cheek, making a hollow noise.

"Behold," he said, "there is your guide."

They looked around in the dark, but could see no one.

"Do not look hard, for he is afraid of the white man's eyes."

"If we knew what we were expected to look at," said Compton, "we'd know where we were; but—oh——"

He broke off, and stared at a little figure that barely reached up to Muata's waist.

"A pigmy, by Jenkins!"

"By Jove! yes."

Mr. Hume unhooked a steel chain from his belt, with a knife attached, and offered it to the little man, who, at a word from Muata, grabbed at it, and, after a minute inspection, hung it round his neck. Muata said a few more words to the new guide, then, lifting his hand, gave the farewell salutation to his friends, and disappeared with the silent river-man. The little man, taking one end of the rope, led them away from the camp of the cannibals, and after a brief rest, without the comfort of a fire, they were early on the march; but it was not until the sun was well out that they saw what manner of man their new guide was. A strange monkey-figure —very black, with wrinkled skin about the elbows, thin arms, knobby knees, a bulging stomach, and round bright eyes! He carried a little bow, a sheaf of tiny arrows, and wore the glittering chain and knife round his neck. He took the "upper road," and was very like a monkey in the ease and agility with which he manoeuvred the branches. Presently he was joined by two companions, who appeared apparently from the tree-tops—one was black, the other lighter in colour, and of vast pigmy stature, reaching a height of quite 4 ft. 6 in. It was found advisable to give these two some badge of office, for when they had become accustomed to the white men, they stopped the march for a violent discussion about the glittering jewel worn with such outrageous pride by the first man. The present of a red silk handkerchief to one, and of a tin box that had held meat tabloids to the other, restored peace. The handkerchief was converted into a turban, the box into a decoration for the breast, and then, chatting like a treeful of monkeys, the three guides went on at a quick pace. There was no midday rest, no halt for coffee-making; they had evidently been told by Muata to hurry, and whenever their white men showed a tendency to slacken, they frowned, cracked their fingers, and capered about. Towards night, however, they descended from the upper road.

"Thank goodness, they'll have to stop when it grows dark," sighed Venning.

The little men gave a long rolling call by moving the hand before the mouth; then two of them slipped away, and presently an answering call came out of the wood. A little later the travellers stood on the edge of a small clearing, surrounded by little round huts made of leaves, and in the centre stood the gigantic warrior with the tin box, and his proud companion with the flame-coloured head. They were grinning from ear to ear as they beckoned their "white men" to advance within the circle of that forest city! Stepping over one of the leafy buildings, and just avoiding knocking down the pillars of an edifice that was probably the town hall, they entered the opening, piled their outfit, and started a fire to prepare the evening meal. The town had appeared deserted, except for the three little guides; but as the giants sipped from their pannikins little forms flitted nearer, and quaint little faces peered at them from every point.

"Take no notice of them," whispered Mr. Hume, as he handed a pannikin to the first guide.

As that sooty imp sipped, with a loud indrawing of his breath in dread of scalding, and a loud outward blowing in token of satisfaction at the comforting taste, the other two guides took the proffered pannikins from the boys, and the entire population crept closer and closer, with many a timid jump. When, however, these strange visitors from the strange outer world, where there was no roof of trees to keep off the shooting stars and other dangers—when these queer people began to massage each other in turn, to rub and to thump, to slap and knead the limbs and muscles, then, in their intense curiosity, even the children forgot their timidity and crowded round. A pickaninny—the queerest little mite—even ventured to poke a tiny finger into the ribs of one of the three. After that there was a great pow-wow. Mr. Hume, with a man in the palm of each hand, a boy on each shoulder, and a couple hanging from each brawny arm, sent the spectators into shrieks of amusement, and they there and then christened him "The Gorilla," in token of esteem—a piece of flattery which was to have a startling sequel. As night fell the little people lamented the disappearance of the sun with a long, melancholy, dirge-like wail; but when darkness was upon them they built up the fire and prepared their evening meal from the body of a red pig they had killed. When the three travellers wrapped themselves up in their blankets, their hosts were still busily engaged in eating and talking, and long into the night, whenever they glanced up through half-closed lids, there were the little forms still about the fires. But in the morning, behold, they were alone with the three guides! The huts remained, and the town house, with its posts, at least six feet high; but the little doors were open, and the huts were empty.

"They've gone," said Venning, much disappointed. "And they have stolen nothing," said Mr. Hume, after a careful inspection of the kit.

The guides pointed to the trees, and once more they were traveling the upper road through the moist leaves, glistening under the sun from the myriad drops of condensed mist. It was more than they could do to keep pace with the agile leaders, and time and again the little men had to wait for the big-limbed, awkward-footed strangers to come up. As on the previous day, they stuck to the work, grudging even a few minutes' rest in the heat of the burning noon, and they only relaxed their efforts to introduce a peculiar sporting event, which nearly put an end to the party. The quick eye of the light-coloured guide saw some object in the tree-tops, and miming out lightly to the end of the branch, he gave a peculiar bark. In response there came the familiar barking roar of a gorilla, followed by the appearance of the black face at a little distance. Immediately the three little men grossly insulted the great monarch of the woods, whose undisputed sway no denizen of the forest cared to dispute, who had been known to break the back of a leopard, and to outstare some chance lion prowling on the outskirts. They made "monkey faces" at him, and no monkey can stand that. They raised their eyebrows, grinned, shot out their jaws, made little grunting noises; and when the great ape imitated them unconsciously in his rage, they broke into unseemly laughter. The gorilla took up the gage of battle and advanced, snapping the branches as a sign of what he would do when he laid a hand or a foot on his enemies. The little men doubled back and put themselves under the sheltering bulk of the hunter's powerful frame, while the two boys sat astride of a big branch, the better to handle their carbines. The gorilla, however, did not push his attack home. They heard his surly grunt as he stopped to take stock of them, and as he did not venture closer, they had to resume the march, not, however, without a very distinct feeling of uneasiness. For when they had got into the swing once more, the gorilla dogged them. Like a hungry shark about an open boat at sea he came and went, now following steadily behind, now ranging up on the starboard quarter, now forging ahead, again coming up mysteriously from the depths below, and now breaking cover on the port side, but never giving a chance for a shot, and always reappearing at a new point after a long interval of silence.

"I don't like the game of hide-and-seek," said Mr. Hume, stopping.

"It's the fault of those little beggars," said Compton. "They appear to enjoy the joke."

The guides pointed to the ground and started to descend, pausing, however, to see if they were followed.

"I suppose we may as well go down?"

The little men laughed when they saw the others descending, and, sliding to the ground down slender vine-ropes, they immediately set to work insulting the gorilla again by a series of rapidly emitted cries. This brought the brute up with a charge, just as the three white men had their attention occupied, and their hands engaged, by the descent. From the branches above there dropped a huge black hairy object, with apparently four pairs of hands.

"By the Lord," cried Mr. Hume, who was the first to see the enemy, "drop!"

He shinned down on top of Compton, who in turn descended on Venning, and the whole three of them reached the ground together in a jumble. The gorilla lighted on all fours a few feet away, then, instead of springing on his helpless victims, he slowly raised himself to an erect position, and so standing on short bow-legs, emitted a tremendous roar, beginning with low mutterings, increasing to the deep-throated bark, and then dying away in hoarse grumblings. A terrible object he was truly, with his fierce grey eyes, formidable dog-teeth projecting from his powerful jaws, which rested without the interval of anything like a neck on the curve of a chest that swept out vast on the well-founded ribs, wrought in strength to support the weight of the protruding stomach.

One arm was raised with the palm of the hand on the chest, the other hung down, a truly fearful weapon, reaching to the crooked knee, and ending in great flattened fingers, that were bent inwards. After the roar the fierce creature lowered itself on to the knuckles of its arms, and seemed as if in another instant it would spring on its foes, still scrambling for a footing, when a piece of mould struck it on the cheek. It made a side-spring at the sooty guide, who nimbly jumped out of reach, and, when it turned, Mr. Hume was on his feet swinging his rifle-strap over his head. Quick as a trained boxer the long black arm shot out and sent the rifle flying through the air, but as its fierce eyes followed the whirling flight of the weapon, the hunter, putting forth all his great strength, smote the animal full on the ear, a blow that would have felled the strongest man. Then he leapt back, just in time to escape a terrific sweep of a hooked hand that would have disembowelled him, as the monster, after a shake of the head, delivered its favourite blow at the abdomen of its adversary. Going down on its knuckles again, it leapt high into the air, and as it descended thrust a long black arm round a tree to seize Mr. Hume, who all the time was calling out for a weapon. The flat fingers hooked under the leather belt, and with a fierce grunt the gorilla put forth its strength to draw the white man closer, while the latter, with his feet braced against the tree, resisted. Then Compton and Venning, who had unslung their rifles, but who had been confused by the rapid movements of the great ape, found their opportunity and fired. Both bullets took effect, and the gorilla, loosening his hold, turned with a roar upon his new foes. His aspect as he faced them was truly ferocious, and his strength was apparently unimpaired, for the thin pencil-like bullets had merely bored two little holes through a fleshy part. A moment his terrible eyes glared at them, and then with a mighty bound he leapt towards them. They fired hastily, and then in stepping back the one stumbled against the other, so that they both fell. They were at the gorilla's mercy! One step forward and he would have struck the life out of them with a couple of blows, but fortunately habit was too strong for him, and he raised himself erect to give out his defiant challenge. A little man tugged at Mr. Hume, who stood transfixed with horror. Looking down, the hunter saw the haft of his Ghoorka knife. He acted at once. Seizing it, he ran forward, and raising himself up, brought the heavy blade down on the monster's skull just as the last guttural bark was emitted. The boys, with their hands lifted in a despairing effort to ward off the danger, saw the gleam of metal, heard the rushing swish and the dull sound as the keen blade bit through skin and bone; and then they saw the monstrous black form suddenly sink to the ground. The next second they were snatched up and tossed aside out of reach, and as they regained their feet they heard the report of a rifle as Mr. Hume fired into '' the hairy body. With its last effort the dying ape seized the hunter by the leg and hurled him to the ground, his fall being luckily broken by a decaying branch, which was crushed under his weight. Bruised and shaken, the three travellers stood by the carcase, over which the little men were singing a song of triumph, as if they had been the chief actors instead of intensely interested spectators. One of them was tugging at the knife to free it from the skull, and as he could not move it, the second, and then the third, had a try, all laughing with much merriment.

"It's fun for them," said Venning, rubbing a bruised arm.

"I believe," said Mr. Hume, sourly, "they contrived the whole thing as a gladiatorial spectacle for their amusement. I don't think I was ever so near death;" and he shook hands gravely. "If you had not fired when you did, he would have had me."

"And what about us?" said Compton. "I never saw anything so awful, and never felt so helpless, as when it stood over us."

"A good job for us he did stand," said Venning, taking out his tape. "I should like to have his measurements. Just straighten him out." He passed the tape over. "Length, 6 ft. 2 in.; round the chest, 55 in.; round the abdomen, 60 in.; length of arm, 44 in.; biceps, 14 in.—not so very huge; forearm, 15 in.; calf, 13 in. His power is in the muscles of the shoulders, chest, and back."

"And jaw," said Compton. "Look at the sweep of the jaw-bone. He would crack a man's thigh with ease."

"And just think," said Venning, "that he has practically four hands, that he can spring like a lion, climb like a leopard, walk like a man, swing like a monkey, bite like a hyaena, and strike like a battering-ram. I guess I've had enough of gorillas."

When Mr. Hume signalled to the guides to continue, they expressed by signs their astonishment that the white men did not sit down to make a meal off the gorilla; and when they really did gather that the feast was to be abandoned, one remained behind, and another disappeared into the trees, while the third resumed the journey with backward looks of regret. About an hour later they met the entire pigmy tribe on the way to the feast, and as they swarmed over the tree in passing, the little people greeted Mr. Hume with much honour as the "father of all the gorillas."

The next day the travellers reached the opening whence they had started on the trail of the cannibals a few days before. They parted with the sooty guide, giving him a handful of sugar, a stick of tobacco, a small tin of salt, and a cartridge-case. The latter he placed proudly in a hole in the lobe of his ear; the other things he stowed away in his little sack, made from the skin of a small monkey.

When he had gone, the three plunged into the wood to follow the river down to the spot where the Okapi had been docked. After leaving many shreds and patches of clothing on the thorns, Mr. Hume and Venning discovered the spot by the "blaze" on the trees adjoining made by the axe. If it had not been for those signs, they would not have recognized the place, for they had expected to find a clearing, and, instead, there was already a thicket of young shoots, which had sprouted from the buried saplings. Cutting away this growth, they soon removed the soft mould and the covering of branches. Then they cut a way down to the river, and ran the Okapi out into the water. The chains were greased, the deck riveted in position, the mast fixed, and the boat washed down. That done, Venning put into effect a scheme he had been turning over in his mind for a regular hot-air bath that would steam all the ague, rheumatism, and fever out of them.

"What we must do," Mr. Hume was always insisting, "is to keep the circulation active."

"We're going to have a Turkish bath," said Venning, firmly—"a real one—one that will clear all the germs put at a run, and remove this continual singing in the ears."

"Does your head sing?" asked Compton, pressing his forehead. "My brain seems to be on the shake as if it were jelly."

"That's the feeling," said Venning; "and I've got a notion. See the well? Good; that's to be our hot-air bath. We'll rig the oil-sheets over it by means of a couple of bent saplings. We'll put the lamp inside, bank loam around it, moisten the loam with water, leave it until it steams, then pack one of us in. I'll be the first, to show that it is safe."

"Good," said the hunter, gravely. "And when you have been steamed, we'll knead you, wash you down with warm water, and shave your head."

They did it. Venning went under the sheet; he went in nearly black, and very heavy in the head. He came out brown and white, with a feeling of lightness; and when he had been shaved, shampooed, thumped, whacked, and kneaded, he felt "pounds better." Compton and Mr. Hume each underwent the hot-air cure, with the same good results; and then, clothed in clean underwear, and protected by a dose of quinine, they manned the levers, and went skimming along the river, glad to be back in their good boat.

"We must call for the old Arab," said Compton, "now that we are bound for the Place of Rest."

"He'll be in the way," growled Venning; "and we have no time to lose."

"We will call for him," said Mr. Hume. "If we miss Muata, the old chap could act as guide."

So they put in where the tall palm grew, and while Venning guarded the boat, the other two went up the path to find the village. They found it in ruins, and on a post was the head of the old Arab with a lot of Arab writing.

Compton read it out. "Hassan has been. Those who are silent when they could talk remain silent for ever."

"So," muttered Mr. Hume, staring around under frowning brows, "Hassan has been."

"Poor old harmless chap," said Compton; "and he knew my father. I should like," he added sternly, "to meet that Hassan, Mr. Hume." "So should I, my boy."

"He certainly tried to get some news of us from the old Arab, and failing, lolled him."

"Ay, ay. That's the whole story, lad." They took the head of the old man, who, they believed, had been faithful to them at the cost of his life, and gave it reverent burial. Then they returned to the boat, and pushed off.

"Not there?" asked Venning.

"Ay, he was there, but Hassan has been before us, and the old man was dead."

"He must hate us very much to pursue us so relentlessly," said Venning, when he had heard the story.

"He is not bothering about us," said Mr. Hume. "I take it that he has heard of Muata's hiding-place, this Garden of Rest, and wants it for his own use. Now, lads, is this to be our quarrel? There is no call upon us to interfere, and we should escape a lot of trouble if we did not interfere. I put the matter to you. Shall we 'bout ship, and go down past the Stanley Falls towards the Zambesi and the south, where there is good hunting."

"We'll keep on, sir, if you don't mind."

"Oh, it's all the same to me," said the hunter.

"Don't tell me," said Compton. "You are not indifferent about it, for you said you would like to meet Hassan."

"So I would, lad. I would rather shoot a man like that than a lion. The animal kills for food, the man slays for the savage lust of power."

"Then we keep on," said Compton, "and no more speeches from the captain to the crew on the score of turning back."

"There's one thing," said Mr. Hume; "this Garden of Rest, if we find it, may turn out to be a complete naturalist's preserve."

"Hurrah!" cried Venning. "Give me the beetles, and you can have the gorillas. Let's hope we shall have a real rest in this wonderful place."

"Won't be much rest while Hassan is around," said Compton; "but we'll have the pull of him if we can get there first."

"Without his knowledge," added the hunter. "The advantage of a surprise is everything in native warfare, as you have gathered in listening to Muata's yams."

"We'll have to lie up to-night, I suppose, or else we shall overrun the spot where we are to meet Muata."

"It cannot be very far. I take it we are now travelling on the short leg of a triangle, the long leg being the track we made through the forest, and the other leg the tributary stream down which Hassan went to pick up his cannibal allies."

"All we want, then," said Compton, "is a few hours' start, for we can show a clean pair of heels to any canoe afloat."

"That is right enough; but you have to reckon with a cunning foe, and it is more than probable that Hassan has left some of his men ahead to keep watch. We'll hug the shore, and keep on as long as possible."

The levers clanked merrily, the little screw lashed up the dark waters. One reach of the river was very much like another, but the silence and the absence of life which at first had depressed them now gave them comfort, for in this gloomy waterway a strange human being meant a possible enemy.



CHAPTER XVI

ACROSS THE LAGOON

As the night came stealthily creeping over wood and water, sending hosts of birds with loud scoldings to their chosen roosting-places— for out of those myriads of trees only certain trees were selected— the boat was put in near the right bank. The levers were muffled, and the "lookout," with a bill-hook ready to fend off any snag, and a bull's-eye lantern to shoot a sudden light, took up his position in the bows. She crept on slowly through the pitch darkness, the crew easing off at times to listen as some loud noise broke the silence—the plunge of a hippo, the snort of an angry bull, the swirl of a fish, or the cry of an otter from the bank. In one of these silences a whisper came from the bows.

"Look," said Venning; and he flashed the bull's-eye on the bank.

The others, glancing along the streamer of light, saw reflected two bright eyes, a gleaming muzzle, and the tips of curved horns.

"A buffalo," whispered Mr. Hume.

As the boat drifted slowly past, they watched the bright eyes, and the eyes of the animal followed them. Out of the intense blackness only those points were visible—the luminous eyes, the shining muzzle, and the tips of the horns. The rest was left to the imagination; yet the picture seemed to stand out of a shaggy forest bull, his fore feet on the brink of the water, and his head thrown up.

"What a picture for a flash-light photo!" muttered Venning, longingly.

"What a mark for a shot!" sighed Mr. Hume. "And red meat would be very welcome."'

As they slipped away the buffalo snorted, crashed into the forest, and battered his way on a course parallel to them to get another view of that mysterious light, for presently they heard his snort again. A little further on a bull hippo charged at them, but the glare of the light full in his eyes stopped him, and he remained open-mouthed, so that all they saw was a yawning gulf bristling with ivory. Mr. Hume, who had picked up his Express at the first snort, laid it down again with a laugh.

"Took the fight out of him that time, Venning; but it's a little risky."

"Keeps one wide awake, at any rate," said Compton.

"We'll continue for an hour or so and then tie up, for we may have a heavy day to-morrow."

For a couple of miles the boat felt its way through the dark without incident, and then the look-out signalled another discovery.

"Light ahead!"

The Okapi was brought broadside on, so that the crew could have a clear view of the river; and they sat for some time in silence, looking at the strange object—a tiny but steady glow of fire.

"Shut off the bull's-eye, Venning. We'll make for mid-stream, and approach the fire with caution."

The boat moved out into the current, then worked up very tenderly while Venning steered, with his eyes fixed on that little speck of red. Slowly they advanced, cautiously were the levers pulled over and shot back, so that there should be no noise, and silently the smooth craft cut into the darkness. But light travels far, and they seemed to get no nearer.

"I believe it's a light in a boat," muttered the lookout.

The others slowed up, and they listened, but they heard no sound of paddles, only innumerable stealthy whisperings from the woods.

"It is stationary," said Mr. Hume, "and ashore, as you may see from its fixity. Beep her away. We can't be too careful."

They made a long reach down, going very warily, and taking care not to keep their eyes solely upon the fire; for a light is a good lure to draw the careless into an ambush, unless they are on the look-out for danger in a different quarter.

"I can't see any one about," said Venning, who was using the night- glasses.

In complete silence they came at last opposite the fire, but no sooner had they passed it than it went out.

"Put her round," whispered Mr. Hume.

The boat answered her helm like a well-trained horse, and they went back on their course to see if they could fetch the light again.

"Yes, there it is."

"Then it's a signal," muttered Mr. Hume; "only to be seen by some one coming up-stream."

"Suppose it is meant for us?"

Mr. Hume went forward with his Express, and relieved Venning at the helm.

"We'll creep nearer in this time, but be ready to make a dash if it proves to be one of Hassan's watch-parties."

This time the Okapi hugged the shore, and stopped when it came opposite the light.

Out of the darkness came a low laugh. "I have been awaiting you, O great one; but you came so softly that I should not have known except for these wise ones here."

"Welcome, Muata!" The boat was run in now without further pause, and Mr. Hume leapt ashore with the line. "And who are the wise ones, chief, that could smell us out in the dark?"

"Who but the jackal and the wise woman?"

"You found your mother, then! I'm very glad—very glad. And what about Hassan? He has passed this way, and made his sign at the village where we left the old Arab."

"The Arab thief comes up the little river with many canoes and the whole pack of man-eaters. So we three will get into the shining canoe, if the great one wills, and make good the time before sunrise."

"The boat is ready."

Muata called. The fire was put out, and presently two figures appeared within the range of the bull's-eye lantern—a woman and the jackal. The woman halted to speak a few words to Muata, then she put a hand on the hunter's shoulder and peered into his face. She laughed and said something.

"What says the wise woman, Muata?"

"Lion—not gorilla. Haw! We heard the story from the little men how the great one cleft the skull of the gorilla; and how they called you my father, after the man-monkey. But I told her you were more lion than ape, and she has judged for herself."

Mr. Hume laughed, and held a hand to help the woman into the boat; but she stepped aboard unassisted, and moved forward, the jackal following very humbly.

"And the river-man?"

"He struck the trail of three man-eaters, and followed them, seeing red. Maybe he slew them and was slain, for there was much noise, and he did not return. So we here are all till we reach the hiding- place."

The boat was pushed off, and Muata took one of the levers.

"Let the young lions sleep," he said. "We can have no better watch than we now have. See! the jackal smelt you while you were still afar, and the chiefs wife heard the noise of the boat before I did. Wow! We are safe while they watch."

"Does the chiefs wife smoke?" "Ow ay! tobacco would please her heart." Mr. Hume passed a pipe and tobacco to the woman, and Compton gave her a lighted match. She took them as if they were ordinary objects of her life, lit the pipe, and by the flame of the match leant forward to peer into the boy's face as she had stared at Mr. Hume. And she spoke a word or two before turning her face to the bows for the long watch.

"The river runs into the sea; but the river is always full. That is her word, young lion."

"Which means?"

"I told her you were the white man's son, and she has seen for herself. Maybe her words mean that when the father is gone the son takes his place. But in time you will know, for her meaning is sometimes hard to understand. Now sleep, you two, for there is great need for us ahead."

Without more ado the two "young lions" rolled themselves in their blankets and enjoyed the rare luxury of an untroubled sleep, and when they awoke they were in a vast lagoon, out of which stood the bleached skeletons of dead trees, with gaunt bare branches, in all manner of fantastic shapes. But it was only the trees that were dead, for the astonished eyes of the boys rested on such a multiplicity of animal life as they had never before seen. Birds roosted on the aforesaid dead branches—sooty ibis, white pelicans, crows, kingfishers, and here and there, like sentinels on the topmost branches, a white-headed eagle, with his hooked bill, dominating the scene. Wheeling through the air were strings of duck and wisps of snipe in battalions, rows of cranes with their long legs trailing, and on the surface of the smooth water, on scores of small islands, formed originally by uprooted trees, and under the water, there were yet innumerable creatures. It was certainly grand hunting for all. There were flies and gnats for the frogs, tadpoles and the spawn of frogs for the little fishes, little fishes were preyed on by the ducks and the big fishes, while the birds and the big fishes in turn provided breakfast, dinner, and supper for the crocodiles. Apparently the crocodiles were too tough, too musky, and too powerful, to serve as food for any other animal higher up in the scale; but it is not to be supposed that they had merely to open their jaws to snatch a meal, for there were shallows all about where the waders could go to sleep in peace, standing on one leg. And there they stood, regiments of them—crested cranes, blue cranes, black ibis, pink ibis, flamingoes, and wild geese.. And the noise was tremendous!

The Okapi sailed under a gentle breeze right into the thick of this sportsman's paradise, and from the low islands armies of mosquitoes gaily advanced to meet her until they formed a moving cloud around her, only kept off from eating up the crew by the merciful intervention of the canvas awning and mosquito curtains.

"What a magnificent specimen of the spoonbill bittern," groaned Venning. "If we had only brought an air-gun—for I suppose we cannot fire."

"Look at those fat geese in a row," said Compton. "What a stew they would make. Just one shot, sir."

"It won't do," said Mr. Hume. "A single shot would raise noise enough to wake the seven sleepers."

"There is another way," said Muata.

"What way?"

"A line such as you used for fish—see." He shaved off some thin shreds of buffalo biltong, chewed it, and dropped it astern. An inquisitive teal watched him keenly, and, as the boat went by, made a swoop for the fragment. The incident was noticed, and a big gander, curiously tame, came sailing up, arching its neck in imitation of the swan. The boys were at the lockers in a flash, drew out a couple of lines, bent on a large hook, buoyed it, by the advice of Mr. Hume, between two floats, baited the hooks, and payed the line over the stem, while Muata dropped over a few more pellets. There was a flotilla of duck and geese following in the wake of the Okapi, and in less than a minute there were two bites. Compton had the black and grey gander, while Venning had a fat duck in tow. The Okapi was backed full speed astern and the astonished fowl pulled on board before they knew what had happened. The geese sheered off at once, speaking to each other in subdued tones, but in the next quarter of an hour three more ducks were added to the bag. Then a piratical craft appeared in the very thick of the peaceful convoy, opened its broadside, as it were, and engulfed a couple. There was a swirl in the water, a resounding smack made by a long scaley tail, and a third fowl went the way of the others. Beating their wings, the duck rose with loud quacks to seek the safety of a shallow, and the leery green eyes of the piratical crocodile appeared above the disturbed water.

"You old thief!" cried Venning.

"It is his hunting-ground," said Muata, with a chuckle, as he passed the birds to his mother, who began at once to pluck them.

"Out with the big pot and the preserved vegetables," said Compton. "We'll have one big feast, even if we go hungry for a week."

The pot was got out, water from the lagoon was boiled, strained, and boiled again, then, as each bird was cleaned, it was cut up and placed in the pot, the offal falling to the share of the jackal. It was a great meal, of soup, game, cabbage, potatoes, onions, and carrots, all mixed up, and when it had been eaten down to the last drop, with a dose of quinine for safety, and a cup of coffee for comfort, they were all shiny and happy. The oily fat from the birds, which formed a layer on the top while the mess was boiling, had been carefully removed, and when it had cooled, Muata and his mother rubbed it over their faces, necks, arms, and hair until they glistened.

"Well, I'm sugared!" said Compton.

"Fat very good for the skin," said Muata, showing his teeth. "You try."

"Better for the guns, chief.''

"Wow! and for the big knife;" and the chief polished up his Ghoorka blade, while the boys greased the rifles and stared at the chief's wife, thinking, as they stared, of the adventures which she had been through since she fled from the kraal of her husband, driven out by the slave-hunters. They had seen old black women at the villages, wrinkled old crones, phenomenally thin; but this woman was not much wrinkled, and she was not thin. Neither was she ugly as those others had been, for she carried herself straight, and there was a dignity about her actions whenever she moved her long bare arms. But they came to the conclusion that she was not a person to sew on buttons, for there was a hard look about the eyes, and the whole cast of the face was set and stem. It did not seem possible that she could smile, and, remembering the careless laughter of native women, who were amused at anything or nothing, she was a mystery to them. So they very soon gave up trying to make anything out of her, and turned their attention to the lagoon, which stretched away a good ten miles on either hand to the dark fringe of forest. Evidently the forest had grown where the shallow waters now were, as the dead trees testified.

"The land has sunk about here," said Venning, "and underneath there must be a coal-bed in process of formation. Now, if there were hills around, and a nice clean sand-beach, I should like to spend months here."

"Too many mosquitoes!"

"Besides," said Mr. Hume, striking in, "there are hills."

"Where? Over there? Why, that's a cloud!"

"Perhaps so; but the cloud rests on a hill-top. Isn't that so, Muata?"

"Those be the gates to the Place of Rest."

"By Jimminy! How far?" This was something to be excited about.

Muata held up five fingers. "So many suns will rise and set."

"And does the forest lie in between?"

"Between and beyond."

"And the Place of Rest, is that forest also?"

"The sun shines there all day," said the chief; "and a man can see his shadow lengthen. The little ones play on the white sand, the women and the girls work in the gardens on the open slopes of the hills, and the men——"

"Well, what about the men?"

"They lie in the sand like lizards, and talk like parrots."

It was the chief's wife who spoke scornfully, using the language they had mastered.

"Wow!" chimed in the chief, "they are timid people, the men; but the time is at hand when those who will not fight will be set to do women's work in the gardens."

The woman nodded her head grimly. "The time is at hand when the reapers will work, not in the cornfields, but about the fires where the men sit. Hassan is to be feared; but he can only enter if he is helped from within."

"I listen, O wise one," said the son, sternly. "Even if I weed them all out so that there are none left but Muata and these three white strangers, your counsel shall be followed."

"It is well," said the mother, nodding her head.

"You seem to have little faith in your people," said Compton.

"Haw! They grow fat and timid. They have no fight in them. Once before, when I was a boy, I beat them; but they have forgotten."

"I rather think, chief, that they would be as well off under Hassan as under you."

"Hassan would yoke them in and drive them out through the forest into the plains. A man must fight for his kraal. That is the law."

"It is the law," said the woman.

"And that is the Place of Rest?" said Venning, lingering on the sight. "More like a place of trouble for some; but, at any rate, if there are hills and open places, I shall be glad to get there. It would be a real treat to have space enough for a trot. But, I say, it is time you two slept."

"That is just what I have been thinking," said Mr. Hume.

The two boys took the levers, but Muata declined to rest. He said there were two openings leading from the lagoon to the hills—one a broad channel, commonly used, the other a smaller channel.

"We will take the little river," he said, "so that Hassan, who will follow the other track, will not know of our going. But it is hard to find this little water-path, and I must search for it."

"Don't go up a track that will not give water for the boat. Are you sure that it will carry us?"

"Ow ay! there is water enough, great one. So sleep well."

For a couple of hours the boys worked the levers, and at the end they came upon a thicket of reeds, along which the Okapi skirted, while the chief and his mother kept a keen outlook. Twice they plunged into the reeds on a false trail; and then, as they lay off scanning the oily water for trace of a current, the woman held up her hand.

"It is Hassan," said the chief.

Venning reached for his glasses, and far back over the shining lake he saw little black specks emerging, as it were, out of the forest.

"Canoes," he said; "a great many."

If they did not find the outlet soon they would be sighted. Muata and his mother spoke a few words rapidly, and then he signalled to the crew to enter the reeds. This done, and the boat screened, he slipped into the water and disappeared shorewards. For some time he was away, during which the flotilla of canoes came into view like a flock of ducks, still so far off that the boys could not hear the sound of paddles. Presently Muata splashed back, and, towing the boat, made across a barrier of reeds that had been banked up, forming a sort of natural breakwater, and most effectually hiding the mouth of the stream he sought. Mr. Hume was awakened, and the entire crew, taking to the water, managed to hoist the boat over the barrier. This done, they climbed on board again, and were soon in the mouth of a dark river, almost overhung by great trees.

"That is well done," said Muata. "Now we can sleep, great one; for the other river runs far from this, so that Hassan's men will not hear us."

They were soon asleep. Even the chief's wife stretched herself out with the jackal at her feet, and the two boys were left in sole charge. They had been toughened by the rough-and-tumble of their strange experiences, and inured to the brooding silence and dark avenues of the forest; but they entered into a scene that tried their nerves. The trees closed in as they advanced, and very soon they entered a leafy tunnel, lit up by a faint light that barely showed up the slimy banks, covered by a network of snake-like roots. The little waves churned up by the screw splashed softly upon the roots, making the only sound that disturbed the sombre silence of the place. So low was the leafy roof at places that branches rustled on the awning.

"Fix up the big lantern in the bows, old man," said Compton, who was facing up-stream. "There is not light enough to steer by. Better sit up there with the bill-hook while I work the levers."

Venning went forward, and soon a shaft of light pierced the gloom.

For a mile or more they threaded this tunnel, and not a sign of life was there the whole way. When they emerged from the darkness into comparative space and light, the boys wiped their faces, which were clammy with moisture.

"A few more experiences like that, Dick, and we cross the river for good."

"Eh?"

"Why, man, it's the Styx. It has given me the shivers."

"Quinine," said Compton; and they dosed one another there and then. "I say, I'd give the whole five hundred miles square of this forest for one little glade in Epping."

"Bother!"

"Of all the squirmy, snaky, gloomy, airless, sunless, moist, decaying masses of misery, I think this is the worst."

"It is, Dick; it is. There's not a butterfly even."

"Thunder! It's raining fire! No; it's an ant S It's raining ants, by gum!"

"You ass, you've hooked the bill into a nest. There—that round, black thing—like a football. They're running up the bill-hook."

There was a splash as the boat was shoved off, then muttered exclamations and a yelp from the jackal: Many scores of ants had invaded the Okapi, and each ant, full of murderous rage for the wanton attack upon the nest, seized hold of the first soft thing it came across, and once it gripped it held on like a bull-dog. War was waged on the invaders, and when the last had been discovered and crushed, there was no sleep in the savage eyes of the awakened.

Incidents like these alone varied the monotony of the dreary days they spent in that mournful slough, and if it had not been for the regular exercise at the levers, and the hope of a speedy release from their surroundings, the young explorers must have succumbed. As it was, they lost colour, became pale, languid, and heavy-eyed; and Mr. Hume, noting the signs of the dreaded wasting sickness with anxiety, did not spare himself or Muata when it came to their turn to work the levers.



CHAPTER XVII

THE PLACE OF REST

The chiefs wife urged them on. Neither night nor day did she seem to rest, for whenever one of the boys, in a feverish sleep, tossed his arms about, she was at his side with a drink compounded of herbs, that kept the fever away. She took her spell at the levers, her long round arms moving with unexpected power, and only the hunter himself could tire her out. As for him, he was not happy unless he was working, and at times he made the screw spin again under his fierce strokes, whenever his eyes fell on the wan faces of his young companions stewing in the insufferable heat. He shortened the journey by twenty-four hours, for on the afternoon of the fourth day the woman, for the first time, showed signs of joy.

"Lift up your heads, O young lions," she cried; "let the light come into your eyes, and the strength into your limbs, for we are at the gates! You will catch the cool wind in your mouths. Your nostrils will sniff the air of the hills; your feet will tread the open way; your eyes will see the white clouds afar. Awake, my children, we are at the gates."

They lifted their heads, throbbing with the touch of fever, and before them they saw a sheet of clear water; beyond that a glistening wall of rock, and following up higher and higher, they saw the deep blue of the sky.

"We are out at last," said the hunter, in his deep tones. "Off with the awning, Muata; let us breathe again."

The awning was thrown back, and the boys sat up, drawing in the air in great gulps.

"This is but the beginning," said the woman. "A little further and your eyes will rest on the gardens below and the hilltops above. You will skip like the he-goat from rock to rock. You will shout and rejoice. I know. I was young, too, and I also came through the dark way."

"Where now, Muata?" asked the hunter.

"If the great one cares to leave the canoe, we could reach the top to-night, and sleep far above the woods. None come here. The water is 'taboo,' and the boat would be safe."

"Let us go up," urged Compton.

"Yes; up out of this stagnation," cried Venning, with a longing look up.

Mr. Hume ran the boat in, and Muata leapt ashore. As his feet felt the firm ground he raised one hand high and broke into a chant, the woman joining in at intervals. As he chanted he stamped his feet on the sand; and this song was of himself—of his deeds in the past, of his triumphs in the future.

"Wow!" he said, when he had finished. "There were many days that Muata thought never to look upon these walls again; many times, when his heart was dark, when his blood was like water; and lo! he stands against the walls of his home."

"Of his resting-place," corrected the woman. "His home lies beneath the setting sun."

"I know how you feel, Muata. If I were to see again the cliffs of old England, I would sing too."

"It must be like finding a new beetle," said Venning.

"We are not out of the woods yet," chimed in Mr. Hume, grimly, "so just give your attention to our stores. We must carry up as much as we can, for, 'taboo' or not 'taboo,' I do not like the idea of leaving all our things here."

They made up in parcels as much of the stores as they could carry, and the woman strode off first, erect and graceful, with the largest parcel on her head. Venning followed, carrying only his carbine, blanket, and bandolier; then Muata, with sixty pounds' weight on his head, then Compton, and, last of all, Mr. Hume, with an ample load. A fairly open path, over a lattice-work of roots, mounted up through the trees, and the hunter "blazed" the path by chipping a slice of bark off every fifth tree. Up and up the woman swung with free strides, her short leather skirts, trimmed with beads, rattling as she went; and after many a breather, for the sake of the whites, she strode out, one thousand feet above the lake, on to a rock-strewn slope, free of trees. A glance back showed the evening mist rolling like a huge curtain over the sombre forest, so that they seemed to be looking down upon a silent sea.

"A little more, my children—a little more, and you will sleep under a roof."

She swung off, balancing the load easily, and the others followed in and out among great rocks that had an unfamiliar look, bending their bodies to the steep and labouring for breath; and as they went Mr. Hume drew marks on the ground, as a guide, with the point of his knife, for he trusted no man in the wilderness, except himself. After another thousand feet of climbing, they entered into a gorge, that narrowed at the summit to a mere cleft, and from that cleft they stepped out on to a broad platform, which dominated a wide valley rimmed with cliffs.

"Behold the Place of Rest, O white men; and ye, O great one, who marked the trees below, and whose glance went ever back to note the way so that you should know it again, know that we have led you to the hiding, whose secret was our refuge."

"Ay, mother," said Mr. Hume, quietly, though surprised she had seen his actions; "and remember that we are here to help you keep out the wolf from your refuge. I marked the trail, as ye saw, for it is well that a man should know his way out as well as in."

"He is right, O wise one," said Muata, bearing down his mother's suspicious look. "Should Hassan prevail in the fight, there would be no Muata to guide these our friends to safety."

"He prevail!" cried the woman, sternly; then her finger shot out, and her form seemed to increase in stature. "Look, O warrior of feeble words; see how it greets the chief;" and her eyes blazed as she followed the flight of a great bird that swept out of the mist. "A sign—a sign, my son."

"A black eagle," said Venning. "Maybe it has its nest somewhere about here."

"As this is the Place of Rest," said Mr. Hume, "it would do us all good to sit down. Where is the hut you spoke of, mother?"

"Shall I carry you, little one?" said the woman, with a loud laugh. "A few steps only. A little way, and you can eat and sleep."

She passed to the right under shelter of a cliff, and came very quickly to the door of a wide cave, that ran back some thirty feet.

"Here is your home, and in the morning the sun will look in at the door, and from the threshold, when you awake, you may sit and feast on such a sight as will gladden your eyes, for now the shadows hide it."

They threw their packages on the floor and sat down on a carpet of clean white sand.

"A little further there is water. Muata, my son, for the last time do woman's work and light the fire, while I go below for food."

"Say nothing to the people of my coming," said the chief. "Presently I will go down secretly, and see how the men bear themselves."

"Wow! I see now it is the chief, and not a carrier of wood."

She went off into the gathering gloom, but was back in the hour with a great bunch of yellow bananas, a calabash of goats'-milk, and a young kid, showing no signs of weariness for all her toil. Those bananas, growing with an upward curve against the stem to relieve the dead weight on the branch as they grew, were just then a finer sight than the most magnificent scenery, and the travellers made a great feast, which done, they stretched themselves out on the clean dry sand up there in the clean, crisp air, and slept till the sun next morning streamed into the open cave.

They woke up to find themselves alone, but not forgotten; for outside there lay a little heap of good things, including fresh eggs, a calabash of milk, sweet potatoes, and a bundle of firewood.

"By Jove!" cried Compton; "look at the view. Isn't it splendid?"

"Well, it won't vanish," said Mr. Hume, "so we'll have breakfast first."

Further on along the ledge there was a little cascade, falling into a bath-like opening evidently, from the signs, of human construction, and here, in ice-cold water, they refreshed themselves. After breakfast they were like new men. The keen air put to flight the beginnings of malaria contracted in the noisome atmosphere of the dark water-course they had last travelled, and brought the sparkle into their eyes, and a smile to the lips.

"Now for the view—for a good long look at the Garden of Rest."

"Not yet. We'll first overhaul our rifles and stock of ammunition. This is no picnic, you know. We may be fighting for our lives to- morrow; so to work!"

Orders had to be obeyed, and the ammunition was sorted out— providing 150 rounds for the Express, 250 rounds each for the three carbines, and 175 rounds for the shot-gun.

"That is a short supply, boys. We must be careful not to throw away a single shot; for, remember, we've got to go a long way before we reach safety, even after this business of Hassan's is done. We must try and do with fifty rounds apiece in this little affair."

"Little affair!" muttered Venning, remembering the flotilla of canoes and the mob of fierce-looking cannibals.

"Big or little, we can't afford to indulge in reckless firing. One bullet, one man, is my motto."

"But we cannot all shoot like you," grumbled Venning.

"A matter of habit," said the hunter, quietly. "All you have to do is to get the advantage of position, and then it is no merit to shoot straight. Drop three men out of a hundred, and you will stop the remainder; drop thirty out of a thousand, and the same thing happens. If there are only a hundred, and you have the upper ground, let them come within two hundred yards; if the enemy is in great numbers, open at five hundred yards; and anywhere down to fifty yards according to his dwindling strength. Shoot straight every time, and the plan answers like clockwork."

"Have you tried it?"

"Many times, but only in self-defence. Now we'll just examine our position, for it is always good to have open a line of retreat."

They walked along the ledge to the mouth of the gorge up which they had ascended, saw that the ledge ended there, then retraced their steps past the cave and the bath to a spot where a break in the ledge opened up a way down into the valley.

"Just take note of that path," said the hunter, "and follow it down."

"What a beautiful spot!" said Compton.

"It does the eyes good to look on it," said Venning, enthusiastically. "See how the sun shines on the broad leaves— banana-leaves, I think—bordering the silver stream."

"Never mind the silver stream," broke in Mr. Hume, testily. "Fix your attention on this path. Get it into your mind. See how it drops down to that solitary palm."

"Now remember that if you are down there, and have to run, you are to make for that palm, ascend here, and cut along to the gorge. Have you got that fixed? Good. Now we will go back."

At last, with their feet dangling over the edge of the ledge before the cave, they were at liberty to satisfy their longing to take their fill of the beauty outspread before them. Perhaps it was by contrast with the monotony of the forest that the scene below them seemed to them all to be the most beautiful that had ever gladdened the eyes of men. Imagine a valley about five miles in length, narrowing at each end, and opening out about the centre to a width of two miles, the sides of grass sloping up to a buttress of rock, and rippling along the whole length into folds, with little valleys in between—narrow at the summit, where they joined the rock-wall, and wide at the base, where they opened out on the parent valley, through which flowed a broad stream, fringed its whole length with a border of pale green banana-leaves with stems of gold. In the little valleys were gardens, showing up like a chessboard pattern in neat patches of green, red, and brown, according to whether there was ripening millet, young maize, or new-turned mould. Halfway down the valley was a village of beehive-shaped huts, with an open space in the centre, adorned with one fine tree, under whose spreading branches they could see distinctly the forms of men. In the strong white light every object could be easily picked out—goats browsing among the rocks at the base of the cliffs; flocks of birds circling above the gardens; fowls walking among the huts; tiny little black forms toddling in the sun, and their mothers squatting with their faces turned to the council tree.

"No women in the gardens," said Mr. Hume, "and that always means war."

Venning readjusted his glasses. "There is something I can't quite make out at the back of the village. Looks like men lying down."

Mr. Hume took the glasses and turned them on the spot. "Humph!" he muttered, while his brow clouded. "They are dead men."

"Five," said Compton.

"Yes, five. Muata has been at work!"

"Muata? He was sitting here quietly eating last night."

"Maybe it was either he or they, and he happened to be first to strike."

"It is awful!" muttered Venning.

The discovery destroyed their pleasure in the gentle beauty of the scene below, and they fell to discussing Hassan's probable plan of attack, arriving at the conclusion that the chances of success were with him, when they contrasted his force with the small band of men down below.

"While they are talking," said Compton, "Hassan will be seizing the best positions. Why on earth don't they do something?"

"Perhaps they are at work already," said Mr. Hume. "There is a small party coming down the valley from the left. Muata said something about Hassan's determination to drown the people of the valley. He could only flood the valley by damming the stream at its outlet, which would lie to the left, and I guess those men have been seeing to the defence."

"The leading man has plumes in his head. A chief, I suppose."

"It is the chief himself, Dick."

"So it is. I can make out his Ghoorka knife. Let's give him a shout;" and the two sent a loud "coo-ee" ringing down the slope. The sound reached the ears of the little band of warriors, for they stood to look up; it also reached the people in the village with a startling effect. The men jumped up from the ground, women snatched up children and scuttled hither and thither like ants disturbed. From the depths below a cry came up clear and crisp—the marvellous voice of the native, trained through long centuries to speed a message of war or peace, of victory or disaster, from hill to hill.

"Ohe! Ohe! my brothers, the chief awaits you."

"Does he?" said Mr. Hume, dryly. "Then he may wait until he sends up a proper escort. Oh, here they come, I suppose," as half of Muata's body-guard detached themselves and advanced towards the palm-tree.

"Shall we go down?" said Compton, rising.

"Sit still, my lad. No chief ever hurries; and, you understand, we are all chiefs."

"Are we, though?"

"We take rank with Muata, if he is the head chief; not out of pride, you understand, but out of policy. So just keep cool. Just look as if you were a sixth-form boy approached by a deputation from the kids. See?"

"I'll be as cool and haughty as a——"

"Freshman in a bun-shop," interposed Venning. "Me, too;" and he put on a high and mighty look.

"Don't overdo it, my boy," said Mr. Hume, with a grave smile.

There were seven men coming up, and they breasted the slope in single file at a walk which quickly got over the ground. On reaching the ledge they advanced at a trot up to within a few feet, when they suddenly halted, grounded their spears with a clang, and raised the right hand with the fingers spread. They were fine lads, straight of limb, supple and lithe, without, however, much show of muscle. Their quick glances, with a certain quality of wildness in the eyes, ranged over the three seated and silent whites.

"Greeting, O white men from out the forest, and the water beyond, and the father of waters beyond that." The spokesman stepped forward. "Greeting from the great black one, the river-wolf—he who met the wild man of the woods alone; he who crept in at the gate and slew the man-hunters; he the chief Muata. Greeting to the lion- killer, the cleaver of heads, the maker of plans, who came out of the mist in a shining boat. Greeting to the young lions who slew the tree-lion."

"What is your word?"

"The great chief awaits at the war council."

"Go down and tell your chief we will descend when we have made war medicine."

"Wow!" The spokesman fell back into the ranks. The seven warriors stood for a time in silence; then, at a word from the spokesman, they went through a salute, turned, and marched back in single file, chanting a war song as they went, as an accompaniment to a dancing stride.

"What is the war medicine we are to make, sir?"

"Just the remains of our breakfast and supper, with a dose of quinine to finish up."

"And those chaps will be telling the people down below that we are making strong medicine, warranted to kill Hassan at sight, and ward off spears, bullets, mosquitoes, and Arab swords."

"Well, it will give them courage, if they think all that," said Mr. Hume, coolly, as he inspected the rations.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE FIGHT IN THE DEFILE

In the afternoon, having hidden away the reserve ammunition, they at last went down to the war council assembled under the tree in the village. Mindful of the instructions of Mr. Hume, the two boys were quite self-possessed and incurious, though it was a great effort to restrain expressions of surprise when they were face to face with Muata.

If they were under the necessity to play a part, so in a greater measure was he. The men about him were a mixed lot—of adventurers who had been compelled to seek a harbourage from revengeful enemies, of fugitives who had escaped from the slave gangs—and they were of several tribes. Only a strong hand could keep them in order, and Muata could not afford for a moment to sacrifice his authority. He was master in that valley, or nothing. Hence he received the greeting of his old white friends without a sign of cordiality.

His naturally fine face was hideous in war-paint, two lines of yellow extending to his ears from the comers of his mouth, and another black line running from the centre of the forehead down between the eyes. Two long black feathers were secured in his head circlet, and about his throat he wore a necklace made of the teeth of the gorilla and the claws of a lion. His eyes were fierce and bright, and the quivering of his nostrils showed also that he was labouring under suppressed excitement. Mr. Hume recognized at once that he was face to face with a crisis, and instinctively he realized that it depended on him to save the situation, not only for himself and his young companions, but for Muata also. His calm eyes travelled over the ring of black faces behind the chief. He saw there were two parties. On one side were the young warriors, men of the chiefs age, who probably had been brought up in the valley; on the other was a larger number of older men, whose lowering looks told a tale of distrust and incipient revolt.

"Behold," he said, making up his mind to the role he would play, "we are the chief's 'white men.' We have made strong medicine. Shall I speak, O black bull of the forest?"

"Speak," said Muata, who had caught the hunter's eye when he acknowledged himself to be the chief's white man.

"Thus says the medicine," said the hunter, in his deep tones. "There are wolves on the way to eat up the people of this place."

"Eh—hum!" sneered the older men. "We know."

"We are ready for them," shouted the young warriors.

"Ye know—yes; but thus says my medicine—that you are not agreed among yourselves."

"Er—hum!"

The hunter paused, and his strange eyes dwelt on the faces of the old men so that they looked away.

"There are some among you who would make terms with the enemy. There were some who had sent secret word to Hassan. Go ye a little way up the slope and ye will see the bodies of some of those slain in their treachery!"

"Wow!" The older men exchanged uneasy glances, and a woman's voice rang out exultingly, "Ye speak the truth, O lion."

"Thus says my medicine. If ye do not stand together, the enemy will enter at the gates, and not one will be left alive, for Hassan will slay those whose hearts were with him as he will those who were against him."

One of the older warriors interrupted, shooting a finger at Muata.

"Great one, give us the word that we may slay this dog who comes to make trouble. Is this the counsel of a wise man on the coming of the enemy?"

"What would you do with him?" asked Muata, suavely.

"Send him after those others;" and the man pointed up the hill.

"You stand alone in your words," said the chief, doubtfully.

The spokesman, with a look of fierce triumph, looked around.

"These also I speak for."

"Haw!" said the chief, slowly, running his eye over the old men. "All men of wisdom! Do ye all hold with these words? Be not hasty. Ye have heard the words of the white man. Think well before ye speak."

"How do we know that he is not Hassan's man?" said the first spokesman, fiercely. "He was summoned to the council when the sun was young, and he has only now come. Who vouches for him?"

"I—Muata, the chief. Yet Muata does not give face to him or to you. Ye have heard both sides. Think well and decide quickly, for the day is passing, and we must be at the gates this night. First let me know"—and the chief's voice was very mild—"do we agree in resisting Hassan, or is it that we differ about the white men?"

"We will fight against Hassan," said the spokesman, quickly; "but this white man has spoken evil words. We know him not; and if thus early he begins to make mischief, what will happen when the fight is fierce? Stand by me, friends, so that the chief may see our mind."

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